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Repair Interview: Martha Gershun of Reach out and Read

Reading to children is fundamental to their growth and intellectual development. And the younger a child is exposed to words and books, the more likely they are to foster strong, lifelong reading habits. Unfortunately, not all parents are equipped with the resources to provide strong reading foundations for their kids.

Since 1989, an organization called Reach Out and Read has promoted “literacy and school readiness in pediatric exam rooms nationwide by giving new books to children and advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud.” Since then, they have reached nearly 4 million families – and growing.

Former Reach Out and Read staffer, and current board of directors member and volunteer, Martha Gershun, took the time to talk to Repair the World about why reading to kids in doctor’s waiting rooms works, the best techniques for reading to very young children, and finding her own sweet spot in the world of service.
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Turning Mountains into Mole Hills

“I want to volunteer,” the caller told a colleague at a local social service agency.

“Great,” she said, “there is a elderly woman who returns from the hospital every Monday afternoon and she feels really down and weak from her treatment. She was just asking if someone could stop by.”

After a pause, the caller said, “Mondays are no good from me. I have a tennis lesson.”

“Ok. Well, we could really use some help in the food bank on Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday mornings,” my colleague replied.

Again a pause. “That won’t work for me either. I am free from 2pm to 3pm the next two Thursdays. And then the following Wednesday from 4pm to 5pm. I’m not sure of my schedule after that. Do you have anything at those times?”

Exaggerated or not, I have heard similar stories from many professionals working in social service agencies. Well-meaning people want to volunteer, but they often don’t realize how much strain volunteers can add to an organization.

How can you feel great about volunteering and make sure that you aren’t causing extra strain on a nonprofit?

  • Before even reaching out to an organization, reflect on how much time and what kind of commitment you can realistically make. We often look at our schedules a couple months out and see an ocean of extra time. But when we look back at the past month, we’ll often find that we barely had the time to brush our teeth.  Use your availability in the past as a predictor of your free time in the future.
  • Do some research and have some conversations. Whether you want to volunteer as an individual, you are organizing a group of volunteers or you want to lead a donation drive, have a conversation—or several–early on with the agency you want to work with to find out their needs. Then, see if you have the skills to match those needs.
  • Start from a place of humility. Don’t try to negotiate your way out of their training or set conditions on your service. While it can be challenging to arrange your schedule to make a regular commitment of service hours, the benefit is often much greater to the organization and more satisfying for the volunteer.
  • Remember, you are there to help, and ideally learn. By learning about the needs of the agency with which you hope to work, you can greatly increase the odds of supporting real work without making more work for often-overtaxed professional staff.  Early conversations allow you to develop an understanding about what efforts are underway that you might be able to plug into. It is also an opportunity to share any specific skills you may have. For example, if you are a CPA or a web developer you may be most useful helping in the office and not the serving line.

After the tsunami in Southeast Asia, I was told that among the highest points in one village was the mountain of molding blankets collected and shipped over – probably at great expense. The intention was beautiful and well-meaning, but the problem was they didn’t need warm blankets. They are in the Tropics. They needed a molehill of blankets, not a mountain of them.

Like all successful relationships, you have to listen, be willing to put in the time and make the effort for them to be fulfilling. And nothing is more satisfying than feeling your skills and talents are helping address the world’s greatest needs or relieving even one person’s loneliness.

Help Others Gear Up for the School Year with Staples for Students

Whether or not we want to admit it, August has arrived which means the new school year is fast-approaching. It also means it’s time to start stocking up on pens, notebooks, folders and other supplies for the year ahead.

Unfortunately, many students do not have the necessary resources to get well-equipped, which means that 13 million students in America start the school year without basic supplies. That’s where Staples for Students comes in.
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Spotlight On: Agahozo Shalom’s Nature Park in Rwanda

This essay was originally published on the blog Rwanda on the Wing by Agahozo Shalom Youth Volunteer, Jared Cole. The Agahozo Shalom Youth Village is a Repair the World grantee-partner organization doing amazing work in Rwanda.

Murakaza neza ku Parike Y’Umutungo Kamere W’Agahozo! What in the world does that mean? It means that you are about to enter a brand new nature park. This will be the first of several posts about a special project: a student club has adopted a piece of land and turned it into the Parike Y’Umutungo Kamere W’Agahozo.

The name translates to Agahozo-Shalom Nature Park. At the very top of the hill we call home, which is part of ASYV’s property, the Environment Club envisioned a place where people could protect and enjoy trees. The park features a 600 meter trail that surrounds the 1.72 hectare (4.26 acres) natural area. The mix of trees, tall grasses, and wildflowers provide a glimpse of what wild Rwanda looks like.
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Leiby Kletzky’s Family Turns Tragedy Into an Opportunity to Help

Several weeks ago, New York City was rocked by a stunning tragedy when an 8-year old Brooklyn boy named Lieby Kletzky was kidnapped and killed by a fellow community member while walking home from camp.

This type of violence is always shocking, but Kletzky’s young age and innocence made the situation even more painful – for his family, for the community, and for everyone who has followed the story.

Now, the Kletzky family has set up a memorial fund to raise money for other at-risk children and families. Specifically, the fund supports orphans, needy families, children falling behind in school, and critically ill young children. As the website says:
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Repair Interview: Steven Weinberg of Will Work for Food

Since 2007, an organization called Will Work for Food – which was founded by students at the University of Michigan – has worked to raise funds to combat global child hunger and malnutrition. And they do it in a very unique way.

Instead of simply raising money, WWFF participants engage in a local volunteer project and encourage friends, family and neighbors to pledge money in support of their service. Think a cancer or MS walk – but replace the walking with community service. To date, WWFF and their partners (mostly student groups) have raised over $70,000 to support the global hunger relief work of Doctors with Borders.

WWFF co-founder and pre-med student, Steven Weinberg, took the time to talk to Repair the World about the importance of doing tangible work, how WWFF doubles an individual’s service impact, and what in the world Plumpy’Nut is.
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